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December 15, 2022

Matt Acker shown from behind rides his mountain bike on a wooded forest trail

Matt Acker’s Enduropacking series continues with Part 2. Find a refresher here in Part 1.

We awoke to sunshine and warm air after a well-earned sleep in the Pisgah National Forest. Each of us set about our morning traditions in camp, preparing food, sipping hot coffee, and slowly breaking down sleeping quarters. Our goal for the day was to traverse trails and dirt roads over to Black Mountain trail.

Slowly pedaling out of camp, we wandered on old two-tracks and trails, and I couldn’t help but imagine the people who scratched these roads and trails out of the dense forest. As we passed remnants of a forgotten campground and bid good morning to a fellow bikepacker, I made mental notes of sweet camping spots for future endeavors. After the previous day’s massive climb from town on fully loaded bikes and weary bodies, this traverse route was a welcome reprieve and a great way to loosen up stiff legs.

It wasn’t long before we crossed paths with Clawhammer Road and began our search for a spot to drop our camp gear. We had scoped out a lesser-used forest road as a possibility, but it was completely unknown to us. After some back and forth, we found an area that would suit our needs, then scuttled the gear beneath a tarp covered in leaves. We wanted to travel as lightly as possible and agreed that we could stop back by camp before dropping down to The Hub for food and refreshments later in the day.

Going from fully loaded bikes to just the essentials was like flipping a switch! The bikes became more playful and soon we were rocketing down the old two-track toward Avery Creek trail. Generally speaking, most folks don’t climb up Avery Creek trail to access the big downhill runs, but it was our closest option and made the most sense. Brent and I both enjoy the challenges of technical climbs, and Pisgah sure is a great place to experience that kind of riding. We clawed our way up the trail, attentive for the slightest sign of descending riders.

Cyclist shown from below walks his mountain bike on across a man made bridge

Once at the top, we stood about for a rest, snack, and hydration. We agreed to descend Buckwheat trail to Bennett Gap all the way down to Avery Creek Road and the horse stables. Like kids, we popped off of roots and hooted and hollered as we made our way across the top portion of Buckwheat before the descending began in earnest. Neil cruised ahead to find a nice spot to snag some photos while we eagerly waited so he could set up. Ripping down the steeper portions of Buckwheat was an absolute hoot and we made short work of the section down to the road where we would pick up Bennet Gap trail.

We commenced the usual chatter as we gathered near the bottom of the trail, reliving how each of us had experienced the same section. I always love the camaraderie of this lively discussion period where adrenaline still flows like a raging creek and hearts are pumping wildly. Collecting ourselves, we rode further into Bennet Gap, stopping at the upper rock roll feature to scope it out. Evan was the first to pick a line and clean the steep roll at the beginning of the main descent. It’s always reassuring to watch someone clean a tough move, and I struck while the energy still coursed through my veins. We snagged some more photos and enjoyed sessioning the feature before blasting onward into the rough stuff.

Matt Acker maneuvers his mountain bike down a steep rocky drop.

Partway down Bennet Gap is a tough rock garden with several options. Naturally, we paused there for a photo session and line inspection. I rarely session features, instead choosing the first line I see and rolling with it. It’s much more fun to pause and gather around a tricky section and listen to what everyone else sees or thinks would be the best or most fun line through. After an enjoyable session at the rock garden, we decided to ride the rest of the trail without stopping until we hit the road. I’ve ridden this section several times but never on an enduro bike equipped with super-knobby Teravail Kessel tires and foam inserts. Once you’re up to speed, you can literally skip across all the water bar logs and carry a whole heap of speed until you hit the end. This is where the big squishy bike really shined, soaking up all of the undulations and rough sections. The tires performed their task admirably as I pushed hard into the flat, bench-cut turns ripe with roots and loose dirt. What a run we had down that beautiful trail.

At the bottom, Evan and Neil took a break and broke into their stash of grub. I had it in mind to just keep pedaling, such was my adrenaline and thirst for more trails. I’ll be the first to admit that I get into a mode where I just want to keep going with little to no breaks. It must be the endurance racer ingrained in me, and I often forget that my counterparts might enjoy a rest. Brent was torn on what to do and pedaled up the road with me a bit before nervously turning back to collect Evan and Neil.

I slowly plodded up Clawhammer to the first intersection where we could decide our next move. I have a habit of keeping an eye on the time and calculating how much more riding we can possibly squeeze into a day. I blame this habit on my past career in engineering and having efficiency beat into my brain. Once our group was whole, I proposed two options based on our pace and daylight, but they both had tradeoffs. We could either cruise into town now and get back up before sunset or get stuck out in the dark by following through on our original plan. I was hung up on how much time we had and how long it would take us to get the ride done and had completely overlooked the fact that we came prepared for adventure. They humored my ramblings, then reminded me that it didn’t matter since we all had lights and didn’t care, ha!

We continued back up Clawhammer Road to camp, where we retrieved our water bladders, wallets, and other necessities for town. I had relaxed on the long pedal up and was unsure why I felt the need to keep a lid on things. The whole goal was to have a big, fun adventure; the best ones always go off the rails at some point, so why bother trying to keep any sort of schedule? Besides, it was totally worth climbing back up to hit the newly routed middle section of Black Mountain and the ever-popular lower section. The trail slowly builds in speed and features until you hit the lower section, where it’s all hands on deck to keep the wheels on the ground. Some of the old berms and wall rides are a bit suspect, but it never seems to stop us from giving it our best shot.

Matt Acker and two other cyclists stand together and smile for the camera on the trail

Once at The Hub, we divided our efforts on food and beers and soon had an admirable bounty of goodness piled onto the picnic table. The beers cooled my heels and the food put me into a blissful state. Brent’s friend, Chad, dropped in for a quick beer and to say hello. Nobody seemed in a hurry to make the long trek back up the mountain. Hunger and thirst had placated me, but soon my mind fantasized about a cold river bath after two long and sweaty days of riding. I decided to wander over to the Davidson River for a soak and told the others where to find me. Beer in hand, I waded into the cool water and was immediately pleased with my decision. After a quick scrub down, I perched myself on a log, much like a turtle, and let my mind drift through the events of the day.

Neil and Evan arrived and awoke me from my reverie. Brent caught up with us, and our crew was once again whole. It was now completely dark, and we lurched ever so slowly up Clawhammer Road. Before we knew it, we had made it back to our gear and were setting up camp. A small campfire lit our weary but happy group as we continued to snack and imbibe adult beverages late into the night. A far-off sound of rushing water perked our interest, so we mounted a late-night waterfall expedition. I was reluctant to join, as I was quite tired, but the fear of missing out soon got the best of me. I’m always game for one more…

Three mountain bikers sit together around a campfire at night

Part 3 coming soon.